COOPERSTOWN — For the past 40 years, Bill Harman has been a central figure in the annual Otsego Lake Cleanup Day.
The event became a summertime ritual in which volunteers, many of them connected to the Biological Field Station that he heads, would scour the shores of the lake for debris and litter carelessly discarded by those who used and abused the largest body of water in the Leatherstocking Region.
But in recent years, Harman acknowledged Thursday, he was pleased to see that the amount of debris being harvested had dwindled to the point that in last year’s outing almost none could be found.
That meant, he said, that those who live along the lake have gotten the intended message — fouling the lake was good for no one, especially themselves.
“People used to throw their old hot water heaters, white goods, almost anything, into the lake,” he recalled. “Over time, we’ve seen that people’s level of environmental awareness has improved. There has been a whole change in attitude.”
While the new mindset was a victory, Harman didn’t want a fine tradition to disappear.
So he decided that instead of holding a lake cleanup day this year, he would change the activity’s mission as well as the title. And so on Sunday, the first Otsego Lake Invasive Species Awareness Day will be held.
The goal, though, is essentially the same: protecting the lake and keeping it a hospitable place for both human activity and the native species that thrive in and along it.
Harman said he expects to be joined on the lake by about 15 staffers and interns, and he’s encouraging lake front residents to join in the effort.
“We’re asking people to go out in canoes and kayaks and just paddle around, and if they see anything that looks suspicious, we’d like them to bring it to us,” said Harman, the veteran professor of lake management for the State University College at Oneonta. He presides over a one-of-a-kind graduate studies program in lake management that attracts students from across the nation.